WAITING FOR RAIN: A Farmer's Story by Dan Butterworth

WAITING FOR RAIN: A Farmer's Story

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The biography of an ordinary man, a farmer named Archie Clare. Butterworth (Writing and Literature/Morehead State Univ.) starts with a minute description of Archie's day--a circuit he drives in his ancient pickup truck, through a section of sandy farmland on the western edge of North Carolina's coastal plain. There is a drought during the summer of 1986, when much of the book is set, and Archie looks mostly at parched crops: corn, soy beans, tobacco and cotton, all planted on rented land. Archie, in his late 50s, is slowly going broke--slowly, because the endless paperwork that describes modern farming carries him through bad years, with loans and subsidies. On the other hand, debts keep accumulating, with never enough good years to crawl out from under them. Butterworth traces the history of the region, and of Archie's family, all of them farmers. Corn and soy beans were never the best crops here; cotton is no longer profitable. Archie has a tobacco allotment, once an almost magical assurance of prosperity, but now tobacco, tainted as carcinogenic, is running out of time. As the book progresses, with exquisite portraits of Archie's family, the sharecropping neighbors, and the bleak, nearly blown-away town of Wayfare, Archie comes to the unsentimental conclusion that he must find another way to make a living. He tries several things and finally settles on logging in the swamp, which is dangerous but pays well; slowly, the mountain of debt dissolves. Archie is a hardscrabbling, Camel-smoking, admirable rural male, and Butterworth clearly admires him for his determination, his solidity, and his adaptability. Archie is also, in Butterworth's view, an endangered species, and through the almost minimalist accretion of detail here we feel the heat on the highway and hear the dry corn rustle, and mourn the loss of a way of life. A fine and moving work.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Algonquin